Penn State’s diverse brotherhood goes for four straight NCAA titles

Updated: March 20, 2024

Photo: Penn State’s Aaron Brooks (left) and Carter Starocci met with the media on Wednesday, a day before they try to become the next four-time NCAA champs.

By Mike Finn

If both Penn State’s Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks each win all five matches, respectively at 174 and 197 pounds, at this year’s Nationals, the two Nittany Lions will become the sixth and seventh all-time NCAA Division I wrestlers to win four national championships.

They will join former Oklahoma State wrestler Pat Smith (who won his titles in 1990, ’91, ‘93, ’94); Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson (1999 through 2002), who now is the head coach of Starocci and Brooks at Penn State; Cornell’s Kyle Dake (2010-13), Ohio State’s Logan Stieber (2012-15) and Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis (2018, ’19, ’22, ’23).

And while both could join the group on Saturday night, there is something different about these two wrestlers … and not just the fact that Brooks was given an extra year to accomplish the feat after the Nationals in 2020 (when he was a freshman) were cancelled because of the COVID pandemic.

Brooks, a native of Hagerstown, Md., who eventually won three straight titles (2021, ’22, and ’23) at 184 pounds before moving up to 197 this season, tends to be more low-key and tends to credit his faith for his wrestling accomplishments.

Starocci, a native of Erie, Pa., who won his first national tournament as a redshirt freshman in 2021 and added two more in 2022 and 2023, tends to be more flamboyant with his words.

Despite their differences, each credits the brotherhood of different-type personalities at Penn State for their success.

“When we first came in at 2019, we both saw that we had the same goals and aspirations,” Brooks said. “I think over the years, regardless of our differences and getting into different training schedules, I know he’s in the same mindset when it comes to being the best wrestler you can be.

“You think of the brotherhood and the team. No one is the same. People can be similar but I think that’s the chemistry. There are things that he brings out of people that’s good and there’s things that I bring out of people that’s good. We are very blessed to have a mixture of that. We’re very different leaders, but we both lead.”

“I’ve known Aaron ever since I was a little kid,” said Starocci. “I was always traveling a lot and was always winning. So, I was always watching his matches as a little young kid. I always looked up to Aaron.

“When we came in in the summer session to Penn State, I just saw how dedicated he was. And I was, like, this is going to be a fun time just because I was never around that. Just watching him go about his day and things like that. He’s a kid I’ve always looked up to, even though we are close in age. He’s someone I always look up to and I watch his matches and I try and take some of his moves and stuff like that.

“I think it’s kind of like Aaron said that everyone’s different, and I think that’s a credit to our coaches that they’re able to make everything work.”